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There is no denying the fact that the University of Utah has lost a lot from last season’s team since Craig Smith was hired to replace Larry Krystkowiak on March 27.
Timmy Allen (transferred to Texas), Alfonso Plummer (transferred to Illinois), Pelle Larsson (in NCAA Transfer Portal), Mikael Jantunen (turning pro), and Ian Martinez (transferred to Maryland) represent five of the Utes’ top-seven total-point scorers from and 71% of all Utah points scored last season. Furthermore, those five players were all within the top eight on the roster in terms of minutes played, while accounting for 63.5% of all minutes played.
That is a huge amount of production for one program to lose or, in the case of Larsson, potentially lose, across a six-week period, but this is not a phenomenon zeroing in on the Huntsman Basketball Facility. The transfer portal has streamlined the process of leaving one school for another, giving the student-athlete more power to do so. The NCAA, having approved one-time transfer legislation last month, essentially doing away with a one-year sit-out penalty for first-time transfers, is only going to further saturate the transfer portal.
As Allen, Plummer and Martinez chose new high-major destinations, as Jantunen opted to go home to Europe and turn pro after a promising, productive sophomore season, and especially with Larsson’s future as a Ute now up in the air, there has been an increasing amount of consternation from a portion of the fan base regarding what the roster may look like for 2021-22.
For starters, Smith has been clear since his arrival that there are no hard feelings towards any player looking for a new home. To paraphrase Smith, if a player wants to be at Utah, great. If not, that’s fine, too. That line of thinking falls in line with general public comments about the transfer portal made in the past by Utes athletic director Mark Harlan, but leave it to one of Smith’s assistant coaches, DeMarlo Slocum, to lay out the thoughts of this new coaching staff.
“I think, most importantly, we have a high level of confidence in our abilities with the guys that have decided to stay, play basketball and represent this program,” Slocum said on ESPN700 last month, at which point Larsson was still on the roster, and Jantunen was likely to leave, but had not yet made his intentions known. “As a coaching staff just starting to build a culture here, that’s what’s most important. We have guys that are here because they want to be here. We’re only going to coach guys that have the mentality that this brand is important to them. I think the guys that are in the portal, they feel different, they think there’s something out there for them. All we can say is good luck to those young men. We have a program to build here and we’re going to do it with guys that embrace and really take pride in the Utah brand across their chest.”
COMINGS AND GOINGS
Utah men’s basketball players who have transferred out and in to the program since Craig Smith replaced Larry Krystkowiak as head coach.
Timmy Allen (transferred to Texas), Mikael Jantunen (turning pro), Jordan Kellier (currently in transfer portal), Pelle Larsson (currently in transfer portal), (Ian Martinez (transferred to Maryland), Alfonso Plummer (transferred to Illinois)
Marco Anthony (Utah State transfer), David Jenkins Jr. (UNLV transfer), Gabe Madsen (Cincinnati transfer), Rollie Worster (Utah State transfer)
*Madsen and Worster are immediately eligible under the NCAA’s new one-time transfer rule. Anthony and Jenkins Jr. need waivers as they are transferring for the second time in their respective careers.
The transfer portal took from Utah, but it has given back, too. Cincinnati freshman guard Gabe Madsen, high-scoring UNLV redshirt junior David Jenkins Jr., and a pair of transfers from Smith’s final team at Utah State, freshman guard Rollie Worster and redshirt junior guard Marco Anthony have all chosen the Utes since April 2.
Under the one-time transfer legislation, Madsen and Worster are both eligible immediately, while Jenkins Jr. and Anthony will need an eligibility waiver from the NCAA as both are transferring for the second time in their respective careers.
With Larsson still on the roster for the time being, Utah unofficially has two open scholarships for 2021-22. Looking at the roster as presently constructed with those two openings, there are two factors that jump out immediately.
The roster has a glaring lack of size and physicality, both things Smith has preferred with previous teams, especially the last three seasons when Neemias Queta roamed the paint in Logan. Brandon Carlson averaged 9.4 points and 4.6 rebounds as a 7-foot sophomore last season, and while he remains a rotation cornerstone, his game has never been considered one of physicality, but rather more finesse with the ability to step out the 3-point line. Lahat Thioune is a total wild card, having played sparingly for Krystkowiak in two seasons after redshirting upon 2018-19.
The Utes have been linked to a handful of big men in the transfer portal, to no avail over the last month, but one potential portal addition is 6-foot-8, 220-pound Boston College graduate transfer Steffon Mitchell. A 108-game veteran of the ACC program, Mitchell cut his list of suitors on Sunday to Utah, San Diego State, Minnesota and Texas A&M. Mitchell is immediately-eligible as a first-time transfer.
The second factor is the situation at point guard. Larsson began blossoming into a capable combo guard as last season wore on, especially down the stretch as Rylan Jones missed significant time with a shoulder injury. When healthy, Jones has shown the ability to quarterback the Utes, his steadying presence at the top often acting as a key asset for Krystkowiak.
Beyond those two, Worster, twice the Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Montana as a high schooler, was solid last season for Smith, averaging 9.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists. That level of production came across 26 games, including 25 starts, for an Aggies team that went to the NCAA Tournament.
Whether or not Worster could handle point guard duties and replicate what he did last season at the Pac-12 level are both question marks as the offseason continues to unfold.